Shortfalls in rule of law stall good governance in Africa | Africa | DW | 03.10.2016
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Ibrahim Index

Shortfalls in rule of law stall good governance in Africa

Mauritius, Botswana and Cape Verde are Africa’s best examples of good governance. In its tenth year, the Ibrahim Index of African Governance takes a look at how governance issues have developed over the past decade.

"Ten years ago, when the most common opinion was that Africa was a basket case, the first few iterations of the [Ibrahim Index of African Governance] showed that governance was improving," writes Mo Ibrahim, businessman and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. "When most experts were rejoicing about Africa rising," he goes on, the index "sounded a note of caution by registering signs of progress stalling in several countries." In fact, the newest study finds, there seems to be a close link between sustainable economic opportunities and the rule of law.

In this year's index, the island nations of Mauritius (first) and Cape Verde (third) topped the overall governance ranking. On continental Africa, Botswana (second) ranked the highest with Namibia and South Africa pulling up behind. Conflict-ridden Somalia, South Sudan and the Central African Republic ranked lowest on the list.

The index describes governance as the provision of political, social and economic goods and services that every citizen has the right to get from their government. Its findings are based on surveys by various organizations including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, Freedom House and the Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network that surveys democracy and governance issues and has only this year joined the group as a key source.

Symbolbild Smartphone & Kommunikation in Afrika (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

The spread of digital technology is seen as one of the major improvements over the last ten years

Improvements: role of IT in Africa's development

The biggest improvement on the continent, according to the index, is its digital and IT infrastructure. According internet usage studies, one in five Africans have access to mobile broadband and undersea fibre cables already encircle the entire continent. Access to technology and communication is a great development, remarks Ibrahim, but it's marred by steps in the opposite direction by some of Africa's biggest economies. South Africans, for instance, were left in the dark as the country saw massive power shortages from which it only recovered in late 2015. Ghana, Libya, Botswana and Sierra Leone have also experienced a deterioration in their power supplies.

What has however improved for most Africans, is political participation and human rights, finds the index. Participation is assessed by the extent to which governments allow civil society to take part in the political process. It also assesses ability of NGOs to work without fear of persecution or harassment. Ivory Coast was, for example, cited as one of the countries. According to the 2016 report by Human Rights Watch, Ivory Coast has made progress in holding what were seen as free and fair elections, investigating atrocities committed during its 2011 elections and economic development has resulted in an improvement of economic and social rights. Human Rights Watch however also noted that authorities arrested and harassed opposition members ahead of the election. 

Overall, sustainable economic opportunities have also improved for a great part of the continent. Zimbabwe, which was until last year still amongst the 10 worst countries for overall governance, has managed to squeeze its way up to the rank of 39 out of 54. Improvements in economic opportunities and public management have helped push it up. In recent times, however, the country's authorities have crack-down on people protestingagainst the government of President Robert Mugabe who has rule the country for almost 30 years.  

Liberia and Togo are also mentioned as some of the biggest improvers in overall governance over the last decade.

Südafrika Johannesburg Studentenproteste Ausschreitungen Zuma must fall (Getty Images/AFP/M. Longari)

The report shows that good governance indicators in South Africa have dropped

Setbacks: rule of law dwindling

Besides electricity challenges, safety and rule of law have seen some of the worst developments over the last ten years. Almost half of the countries on the continent scored their lowest points ever in safety and rule of law in the last three years. Ivory Coast is an exception that has seen some improvement in this category. "This is holding back the continent's progress and remains the biggest challenge to its future," writes Ibrahim.

Corruption, an indicator measured by the World Bank, has also remained one of the continent's vices. The indicator measure the likelihood of being confronted with corrupt officials, and the hindrances met through bureacracy and red tape. 24 out of 54 countries showed their worst score in 2015.

Countries that have generally fared the worst in the last decade and made almost no improvements according to the index are Libya, Eritrea and the Central African Republic. Libya, fell all the way from position 29 to 51, making it one of the the worst countries in terms of governance on the entire continent. A power vacuum was left after the ousting and killing of its long time ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, sending Libya into a civil war. The country now has two governments, the one in Tripoli being backed by the United Nations and the west.

Eritrea which ranks 5th from the bottom, is the only country so far down the list, that is not embroiled in an ongoing war. It shows a strong deterioration in the rule of law, personal safety and government accountability. The only categories that Eritrea has improved in are national security, health and education.

Nigeria Ölrebellen Pipelines (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Esiri)

The Niger Delta Avengers resurged in 2015, calling for on Nigeria's government to cater for the residents of the oil-rich Niger Delta

Riches and good governance?

Africa's 14 oil exporting nations have generally performed poorly in the Ibrahim Index. Ghana is the only country of the group that has seen an overall 'medium-high' performance, at number seven. Yet as the report points out, Ghana has seen one of the continent's worst deterioration in governance since 2006.

Oil exporting countries like Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Angola and Gabon "appear ill-prepared for the commodity price decline," the report noted. Since 2013, oil prices have fallen by around 17 percent and they are expected to drop even further. On September 30, Africa's largest economy Nigeria announced that it plans to sue some of the world's biggest oil companies including Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell for allegedly failing to pay oil revenues. Nigeria has suffered immensely under the falling oil prices and the 2015-elected government has been promising to shed light on corruption and mismanagement in the sector.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation was launched in 2006. It uses four main indicators to measure governance in Africa. These are: Safety and rule of law, political participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunities and human development. The foundation also awards the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement African Leadership which was last awarded to Hifikepunye Pohamba, the former president of Namibia. There have however been several years when no African leader was seen as fit to receive the award.

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